National Landlords Association

Encouraging renting

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High-flying landlord…

Like so many landlords, Fiona Macaskill founded her property business later in life. She now owns 40 houses in the Bristol area.

Fiona Macaskill was named the NLA’s Green Property Woman of the Year in 2010 and the NLA’s South West Property Woman of the Year for three years running. As a five-time world record holder in paragliding, and the fastest female paraglider pilot in the world, you wouldn’t naturally expect this former DT teacher to move into property. Here, Fiona talks about how she made a success of her new business…

“At the end of the 1990s I took a year out from my job as a teacher of design technology and focused on paragliding – a huge passion of mine – but I broke my pelvis while attempting a paragliding world record. While I was recovering, I inherited £100,000 which I used as a deposit on four properties with a view to letting them to students. This became my lettings business, UWE Houses, and my new career began!

“I have always loved ‘making things better’. I enjoy buying dilapidated houses and completely refurbishing them to a very high standard. The environment in which we live is very important to me – my properties are homes, not just houses and I like to go the second mile.  We provide eco-appliances, 14 of our properties have solar UV panels installed, and we even maintain herb gardens and fruit trees at the properties. Bills are included in my tenants rent, but they are given the chance to recoup some of their money at the end of the year if they use less energy. We work with them to get their monthly meter readings online and I send them a monthly statement so they track their progress against their target.

“As a result of winning the NLA’s Green Property Woman of the Year and the South West awards, we are recognised as ‘top of class’ within our area of student lets within the north east of Bristol. We tend to attract tenants who are interested in ‘eco’ issues and those who are not when they come to us often then take more interest in environmental issues.

“UWE Houses is a now a family business with 40 properties, and we have managed small growth in a difficult market. Raising money for further expansion has become extremely difficult; you would have thought that with Bank base rate being so low it would be easy to borrow but the criteria has become increasingly stringent.

“As a ‘property woman’, I have very high expectations and standards: I attempt to provide top quality housing with top quality service. With four daughters and six grandchildren, and as a former teacher, I cannot help but take an interest in my tenants and their well-being, but this can benefit my business as much as their tenancy. As a human being I need a challenge, and my lettings business provides this, as well as allowing me time I would not otherwise have had to pursue my other passions of flying paragliders and aeroplanes!

“I would absolutely recommend that anyone thinking about entering the NLA Property Women Awards should do it. It makes you think about your own business in a different way, and you need to communicate it so that it can be easily understood. It is an opportunity to learn and develop your business – whether or not you win!”

If you know (or are) a woman working in property with a similarly inspiring story to tell, make sure their efforts are rewarded by entering the NLA Property Women Awards 2012. Click here to view the categories and find out more. Entries close on 25th June 2012 and the ceremony will take place on 31st October 2012.


Laying the foundations for private renting?

Alex Marsh, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Bristol, talks about the Government's Housing Strategy, published last month.

The long-awaited Housing Strategy for England Laying the foundations – has now arrived. The headlines were dominated by the mortgage indemnity guarantee, restarting “shovel ready” developments, and revitalising the Right to Buy. But what does the strategy have to say about private renting?

The chapter focusing on private renting opens with a statement of support for the sector, which the Government identifies as playing a key and increasingly important role in the housing market. The sector has witnessed significant recent growth, but high levels of demand mean affordability is deteriorating in some areas. The Government’s strategy has a dual focus: boosting overall supply by encouraging investment and tackling the minority of rogue landlords. In fact, rather more space is devoted to discussing investment.

Private renting in Britain is increasingly dominated by landlords operating on a small scale. So the Government continues to pursue the Holy Grail that has eluded housing policy for the last 30 years – greater institutional investment. We’ve had the BES, which gave the sector a short-term boost. We’ve had HITs, which sank without a trace. We’ve had the recent arrival of REITs, but largely to the benefit of commercial property investors. The Government is going back to the idea of REITs to see if it can be tweaked to entice investment into residential property.

It may be that this time things are different. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement raised the possibility of new financial vehicles to encourage pension funds to invest in infrastructure. The broader investment environment is currently hostile. The risks associated with more exotic investment strategies are considerable. Residential property may be looking like an increasingly plausible option for a dependable income stream, especially as the Government strategy explicitly acknowledges the need to ensure that welfare reform does not unduly disrupt investors’ income expectations.

There are already some interesting developments occurring – such as the Build to Let Fund created by Bouygues and Grainger – in the search for appropriate vehicles for investing in private renting. The boundaries between tenures are blurring in other ways: for example, Sovereign, one of the largest housing associations in the country, have just announced an expansion of its operations in the market rental sector.

There is the potential for some large organisations to enter private renting, bringing with them professional property management expertise and the scope for brand recognition and reputation. This could alter the competitive climate in interesting ways.

The strategy reaffirms the Government’s commitment to avoid unnecessary regulation on landlords, but then goes on to state that:

we are … looking at measures to deal with rogue landlords and encouraging local authorities to make full use of the robust powers they already have to tackle dangerous and poorly maintained homes.

It says little more than that.

Pressure on the Government to act here is undoubtedly building. The Localism Act will mean more homeless people being housed in the private rented sector. Welfare Reform will mean those people are likely to have less money to pay the rent. Yet, budget cuts mean local authorities have less money available to take enforcement action. Any reputable landlord watching Channel 4’s Dispatches programme last Monday will no doubt be concerned that the action – or inaction – of rogue landlords puts the sector under the spotlight and damages its reputation.

We await further details of the Government’s thinking.

Alex Marsh is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Bristol